After 11 long years of anticipation (including the eight years since the crushingly disappointing sequel Deus Ex: Invisible War) Eidos Montreal gift us with a very shiny, very yellow new addition to the franchise.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution prequels the first in the series and introduces us to the year 2027. Mechanical augmentation is on the rise and has split society into those who are pro augmentation and the purists who believe cybernetics to be end for humanity. They also all carry pitchforks, probably.
This argument is the crux of the Deus Ex: Human Revolution backstory and is brilliantly summarised by the hype campaign videos leading up to the launch which I’ll put here, ’cause I’m nice like that.
Getting into the game then, you play head of security Adam Jenson of the aug-peddling Sarif Industries. In attempt to offset his ridiculous goatee, Jenson puts on his best ‘grown up’ voice and wears a large padded trenchcoat to seem more scary. Oooh.
Good for Adam ‘growly’ Jenson then that It isn’t too long into the game before things start hitting fans and he gets something to do. After becoming acquainted with the basics and a spot of bother with being roughed up and shot in the head we’re treated to a superb intro sequence where we see Adam becoming Jenson 2.0, getting his very own super-scary augments including neat elbow-swords, built-in sunglasses and for some unfathomable reason, a really pointy chin. Intimidating.
As the plot thickens the training wheels come off, and we are able to upgrade Adam’s augs. This can be done with Praxis points which are awarded through our tried and trusted friend: XP, or by buying praxis kits from your local L.I.M.B. clinic.
The options for aug upgrades are nicely varied and essential for choosing the style with which you wish to play the game, leading to some great chin-stroking moments as you try to decide which upgrade will help you the most until you can get the next one.
That’s one of the things that makes the franchise so great: choice. Missions can be completed in a variety of ways if you are ‘creative’ with the interpretation of the objectives and Each level is built to accommodate several different kinds of approach: Stealth, Hacking / exploring or just good old fashioned guns blazing. Whilst three may not seem like ‘several different kinds of approach’, mix them together to taste and you have what feels like a very rich, very free gaming experience.
The levels aren’t just built for function either. Each environment is stunningly detailed and atmospheric, creating a very distinct feeling from the next due in no small part to the subtle ambient sound effects and the interactive NPCs milling around, helping to give the impression that you’re in a living, breathing world. In fact, wandering around the city hubs is very reminiscent of Vampire Bloodlines: The Masquerade, in fact I’d go as far to say that if VBMT was your bag DXHR will be right up your street. Unless you liked the bugs in VBMT of course, in which case there’s no hope for you my friend. No hope at all.
I can’t rightly talk about the game’s atmosphere without giving the graphics an honourable mention: Despite the Micheal Bayesque teal & gold colour palette the graphics are stunning and have a gorgeous cinematic aesthetic to them. Curiously though, with the exception of the opening credit sequence the full motion video cutscenes don’t quite measure up to the in-game graphics, which both jars and baffles all at the same time.
There are some very welcome additions to the options menus. Field of view can be changed to taste, and those unrealistic but useful yellow outlines around useable objects can be toggled on and off. Curiously subtitles are also set to ‘on’ by default. I have to wonder if this is because listening to Jenson growl away would simply be inaudible through cheap speakers. There doesn’t seem to be a ‘Jenson only’ option on the subtitles though, shame.
Controls are pretty much the standard fare. Anyone who has played the Splinter Cell or Gears series will be familiar with the cover method which, although fiddly at times, feels generally pretty slick. Close-combat take-downs can be achieved with a touch (or hold) of a button and are immensely satisfying in a sadistic, predatory way. You have a choice of whether to knock out your hapless prey or get the elbow-swords out and go lethal. The latter of which I found to be as satisfying as it is unethical, and as it turns out: rather noisy too.
Six or seven hours into the game I was completely and utterly immersed. Everything was working together to seduce me like I was nothing but a cheap tart being offered a Lambrini bath. The environments, the characters, the storytelling… ‘This game is perfect’ I thought at one point.
All good things must come to an end as they say and funnily enough that time for Deus Ex: Human Revolution is six or seven hours into the game, when you encounter the first boss fight.
Now I hate boss fights at the best of times, I see it as almost always a cheap and lazy game mechanic designed to provide a challenging break in monotonous gameplay. The boss fights in DXHR however take the cake, and it’s a bloody big cake.
You see, the glorious freedom that you have in the levels to pick your own style and flair for tackling the game goes out the window during boss encounters because there’s only one way to kill them: Picking the biggest and well stocked gun in your inventory and unloading it into your opponent’s large, ugly face. No close combat. No weaknesses to find and exploit. Just get a big gun (which all of a sudden seems about as effective as a straw and a rolled-up ball of wet paper) and shoot it. Rinse, repeat.
Prefer to stealthily attack the assailant by lurking in the shadows taking anonymous pot shots? Tough.
Rather explore the area and find a hidden password that turns the security system against the big, scary robot-man? Not a chance.
Tailor picked your augs to be a stealthy close-quarters killing machine only to find you’re useless in a one-on-one fight and have to reload the last savegame you could find only to choose an upgrade strategy against your will like I had to? My condolences.
And that was the first boss.
By the second boss, roughly around 20 hours of play time or so, I felt quite confident and prepared for my next encounter. I had diligently upgraded my massive heavy-rifle at the expense of my super-cool silenced pistol and hoarded enough ammo and landmines to take out a substantially sized tank platoon. But guess what- It wasn’t enough. Unbeknownst to me I hadn’t upgraded my dermal armour to an effective standard so apparently I had all the bullet resistance of a net-curtain.
Queue the ‘Load previous game’ option.
However I was 20 hours in and got into the habit of quick saving. My last save was, and it still hurts to say it: seven hours in. That’s right, I had to reload and replay thirteen hours worth of gameplay all because of a stupid, badly thought out boss fight. Of course with the aid of hindsight I was able to retrace my steps in about half the time but that’s not the point, I shouldn’t have had to.
Later it was revealed that Eidos Montreal outsourced the bossfights to G.R.I.P. who in this video ‘confesses’ to not knowing a damn thing about the Deus Ex franchise. While asking yourself how the hell it’s possible for a game development studio to know nothing about the best game of the noughties, have a little butchers:
It wasn’t long after the rose-tinted augmented glasses came off that the other cracks in the game started to become clear. As your upgrades become more powerful you naturally tend to rely on them more and it’s then when it becomes painfully obvious how flawed the energy system is.
You have an energy bar that gets consumed when using augs and it recharges slowly when you aren’t. Par for the course, however, the energy ‘bar’ is split into battery cells and works like the halo / resistance health system: When each cell depletes it becomes ‘spent’ and won’t recharge automatically without the aid of choccy bars or protein tubs to push it over the threshold. This would be fine I suppose if there wasn’t what seems to be a world-wide shortage of chocolate in the year 2027. Why don’t the vending machines work? They did in the first one I’m sure. A vending machine virus written by a clever but malevolent fitness instructor no doubt.
Also for reasons unknown, close-quarters combat uses an entire cell of power so be prepared to spend most of the game on one cell, performing single take-downs and retiring into the shadows for 60 seconds before attempting the next one. How about a recharger aug Eidos? Seriously, I had a Duracell one in the 80s that could do more than one battery at a time. It was really good.
The final gripe is the ending. Apparently no decision you make during the whole game has any consequence whatsoever in the long run, at the final furlong you just push a button to pick an ending. I’m guessing they either ran out of time and couldn’t find a studio with whom to outsource the endings or they’re saying something very profound and ironic about the nature of destiny.
After picking an ending you are ‘treated’ to a bunch of stock footage stuck into a video cutscene with the dulcet tones of Adam Jenson mumbling over it about how everything he did was right, even if you’d in fact been going through game mercilessly murdering every Tom Dick & Harry you laid eyes on. After such a varied and free game experience I expected more from the finalé.
You know what though? I can deal with all of that. I can almost forgive the game for losing those 13 hours of gameplay time because during the second playthrough I found new areas and noticed new details that I hadn’t before, I was able to make slightly wiser aug choices and take different tactical approaches to avoid treading the same old ground.
It strikes me that Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game that has had a lot of love poured into it by Eidos Montreal but they were forced to skimp on a few areas due to time contraints, budget or not enough coffee. Many areas though, in fact most of them, are polished, rich and immersive, and for those moments Deus Ex: Human Revolution is well deserved of a purchase (just remember to get the Typhoon aug. Seriously.)Have a game you want to review and fancy yourself as a bit of a writer? Find out how to become a guest blogger. Or you could make a suggestion by following us on those new-fangled social media-thingers Facebook and Twitter.